As a vendor of project management and collaboration software, we talk to a lot of project managers. And we've heard all too often that despite every obvious intention for a project to be successful, the reality is that sometimes things fall apart.

My belief is that the more you are prepared to fail, the better suited you are to prevent it from occurring at all. So I asked project managers to share their stories on project failure and the reasons behind the big flop. Now I'm sharing their lessons with you, so that we're all clearly aware of what we're up against each time a new project begins.

Here's what they attributed to the top reasons projects fail:

1. Poor communication

"There has been one thing that consistently shows up on every project gone bad — poor communication. The other factors vary, but communication issues are always at the core of failed projects." —Tom Atkins, Founder, Quarry House

Everyone knows how vital it is to proactively share information and knowledge during a project if you want to succeed; yet poor communication continues to trip teams up time and time again. If you and your team haven't set aside any time to focus on improving your communication skills recently, don't wait until the next project disaster to convince you that it's necessary.

And who better to learn from than the champions of team communication — professional athletes. Take a few minutes to read this fun article and pick up some communication tips for your team: How to Communicate Like Super Bowl Champions

2. Underestimated timelines

When you underestimate the timeline for a project, the result is more than just a missed deadline on the calendar. Workers have to be paid for more time, so your estimated budget goes over. Sales teams were relying on your timely product release, and now they've lost big deals. It's important to accurately predict your timeline — and Jazmin Truesdale does that with excellent risk management:

"Projects fail due to underestimated time. Now, when I create projects I estimate 3-5 situations that could delay the project and how to deal with those situations and allot time for whichever would take the longest time to recover. Now 75% of my projects finish ahead of schedule." —Jazmin Truesdale, CEO, Mino Enterprises

If you need help managing risk in your projects, start with our risk management guide: Project Risk Assessment (Ultimate Guide to Project Risk, Part 1)

3. Failure to hammer out the nitty gritty details

"The nitty gritty is what is going to make you or break you. [Projects] start out strong and start to break down as we get closer to the deadline." —Jennifer Mansfield, Head of Customer Support, Qgiv

Are you a big-picture thinker, or do you have a detail-oriented mind? Usually we only excel at one or the other, but if you want your projects to be successful, you need both. (I know, not your favorite answer.) If you're still missing part of the picture, then start reviewing past projects to see where your common oversights have been, and take those lessons learned to plan more accurately in the future.

If the idea of recording lessons learned during your projects sounds daunting, use these tips and templates to help you get started: Why You Need to Record Your Project Management Lessons Learned: Tips & Templates

4. Unhelpful teams and technology just complicate things

We're talking about teams and tools that cannot deliver on the expectations. Stop the madness! Fix your broken processes quickly — even if you eat the cost from ending a contract early. Trevor Ewen told me about a client project gone wrong when his consulting firm was charged with breathing life into a failing project:

"In an effort to preserve an existing vendor relationship, we were forced to work with that vendor. In reality, we would've been much better off telling [the client] to pay the vendor to walk away. It was a win-lose. They delivered a broken product: we were required to fix it." —Trevor Ewen, Senior Software Engineer, Neosavvy

Keeping yourself locked in with teams that create more problems means you're going to spend extra time and money hiring additional teams to fix their mistakes. Bail early, before they create more problems than they're worth.

And the same goes with technology. If the tools you're using to run your team and projects are making work harder, then find a new solution immediately. There are many types of tools your team can use to make work easier: project management, document management, content management, portfolio management, client relationship management... the list goes on.


5. Management not paying enough attention

As the project manager, you are the symbolic parent and champion of progress. And just like a child, projects need regular health checkups to make sure everything is growing as it should be. It's important to check in frequently with your team and offer your assistance when things are slowing down. Trevor Ewen's unfortunate failed project struggled without proper support from the project manager:

"He was shirking his duties to better plan for a product release. This persisted for months, and with a remote team, it's never a good idea to put your head in the sand." —Trevor Ewen, Senior Software Engineer, Neosavvy

To learn more about how to be a present manager and leader, read this article: 7 Leadership & Mindset Tips for Extreme Project Managers

Do you have a similar story to share?

Have you worked on a project that failed to live up to expectations? Share your experience and the reasons you think your project went wrong in the comments. The more we know and learn, the more we can plan to succeed. Thanks for passing on your knowledge!

Related Reads:
5 Reasons Why Your Team Isn't Getting Stuff Done
Lessons Learned from Project Failure at Denver International Airport
How to Combat the 4 Main Sources of Scope Creep